Maybe I’m not quite as cowardly as I thought I was

One of the main reasons I’ve kept my politics under wraps (stating my views if confronted directly, but not engaging in heated political debate otherwise), is because I’ve been worried that it would affect me professionally.  In my neck of the woods, most of my potential clients had Obama bumper stickers on their cars and sang hosannas upon his election.  All of them are very nice people  (I wouldn’t work for them otherwise), but I’ve never trusted any of them enough to risk letting them know that I disagree with their political outlook.  I kept telling myself I was cowardly or paranoid, but then I’d look at the money they paid me, money that helps pay our expenses and fill our retirement accounts, and I’d figure a little paranoia and cowardice wasn’t so bad.

It turns out that my instincts might have been right.  Although I’m sure it wasn’t my clients who wrote to the New York Times‘ ethicist, it could have been.  It turns out that some lawyers are thinking that it’s okay to discriminate against conservatives, just as one might once have discriminated against blacks or Irish or Jews (h/t Above the Law):

While interviewing law students for jobs as paid summer interns and full-time associates for my firm, I noticed several had résumés listing their activities in the Federalist Society. Some of my partners have conservative views similar to those of the society, but I do not. These students’ politics would not affect their professional function, but my review is meant to consider their judgment and personality (though I don’t need to give reasons for the assessments given). May I recommend not hiring someone solely because of his or her politics? NAME WITHHELD, GREENWICH, CONN.

The Federalist Society incidentally, the one that gets this lawyer’s knickers in a twist, is not made up of rabid, Bible-spouting, gun-toting, racist, homophobics.  Instead, it is a highly intellectual legal organization dedicated to preserving the Constitution within the context of the legal profession.

To his credit, Randy Cohen, the Times’ resident ethicist, was horrified by the idea (although he still manages to take a swipe at the Bush administration):

You may not. If candidates can do the job, bathe regularly and work well with others, you should hire them. As you note, their “politics do not affect their function.” Is it your position that only people who share your politics should be allowed to make a living? It was odious when membership in the Federalist Society was all but required for some jobs in the Justice Department; it is no more appealing to make that affiliation a bar to employment at your firm.

What’s fascinating about the above interchange is that the lawyer, having written to the ethicist to seek his guidance, promptly ignored the guidance sought:

Believing that all the applicants were qualified, but able to hire only a few, this person recommended rejecting each member of the Federalist Society.

It’s exchanges such as the one above that confirm with me that I haven’t been paranoid.  Liberal lawyers are just as prone to discriminatory practices as are universities.  Speaking of which, I heard from a parent that his child had to go through a more rigorous admissions process at a major university because of his conservative politics — and, unsurprisingly, that same university couldn’t bring itself to say yes.  What was amazing was that there was nothing subtle about this.  They viewed this sterling young person with the same suspicion that you or I might give to a child raised in a terrorist enclave.

I was raised as a liberal.  I know liberal thinking:  conservatives are evil.  And really, if you had a law firm to run, would you want evil people working for you?  It’s hard enough to be lawyer without worrying about the devil in the office next to yours.

Incidentally, I don’t have a problem with firms making such decisions.  If they want to shut out the best and brightest legal minds, the market will eventually turn on these firms.  I do have a problem, however, when publicly funded universities and colleges, or publicly funded radio and TV stations, engage in the same discriminatory practices.  If you’re going to relieve me of my money through the brute force of government, you better pay lip service to my views.

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  • Gringo

    The issue of liberals as gatekeepers reminds me of   Catholics and Dissenters  previously being denied entrance into Cambridge and Oxford. In spite of  that  exclusion, nearly all scientific and technological progress in England  and later the United Kingdom from 1600-1900 came from Dissenters, not from those belonging to the  (Episcopalian) Established Church. Some dissimulated their beliefs, such as Isaac Newton, in order to gain access to Oxbridge.
    One reason to exclude Republicans is that they are irrational Bible-thumpers who refuse to think rationally. Even the Pew Report says so.
    “Conservatives and Republicans report fewer experiences than liberals or Democrats communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts and consulting fortunetellers or psychics,” the Pew study says. For example, 21 percent of Republicans report that they have been in touch with someone who is dead, while 36 percent of Democrats say they have done so. Eleven percent of Republicans say they have seen a ghost, while 21 percent of Democrats say so. And nine percent of Republicans say they have consulted a fortuneteller, while 22 percent of Democrats have.
    There’s more. Seventeen percent of Republicans say they believe in reincarnation, while 30 percent of Democrats do. Fourteen percent of Republicans say they believe in astrology, while 31 percent of Democrats do. Fifteen percent of Republicans say they view yoga as a spiritual practice, while 31 percent of Democrats do. Seventeen percent of Republicans say they believe in spiritual energy, while 30 percent of Democrats do.
    Let’s hear it for those straight-thinking Democrats!

    (I would not consider Yoga views as inimical, but I included it because the article did.)

  • Ymarsakar

    A political and religious organization based around the worship of pleasure  conceived decadence and emotionalism is not qualified to make any sort of judgment on ‘rationality’.

  • Ymarsakar

    <B>If you’re going to relieve me of my money through the brute force of government, you better pay lip service to my views.</b>
    Since they don’t have to actually meet the people they steal from, they feel free to spend the money as if it was their own, with no sense of the societal guilt that would have resulted had a member of a group stole food from children in the dead of winter, with famine on the horizon.
    Now they can have stolen food, but separate in their mind from the source, thus relieving them of guilt by degrees of association. If Bush and Cheney are guilty of torture and killing cause they are related by degrees of association to such, in the eyes of the Left, what do you think the Left is guilty of considering their own logic?

  • Ymarsakar

    This is true even in micro scale events, such as a person loaning money to a friend. Don’t expect your money back any time soon. Because the principle of the matter is that since there is no incentive or de-centive to pay it back, only the most well behaved, virtuous, and disciplined of individuals will pay it back on schedule. Those  that are otherwise, will start making excuses and thus default, cause there is no interest.

    It is basic human nature. Some people have just overcome their natures. And if this is true for people who treat their friends like this, then obviously it is going to be even more true for people who have the opportunity to treat strangers as if they were their own personal piggy bank.


    I wonder:  would requests to the NYT Ethicist to publish the name of the bigotted law firm be worthwhile?  Would these requests be better if from prospective clients, other lawyers, or law students and law professors desiring not to waste their time in applying?

  • Ymarsakar

    It’s better to destroy their funding sources entirely. Find what they need to stay afloat then torpedo it. And in many cases, it may be the multi million dollar tort business. Aka wealth redistribution to lawyers.

  • highlander

    I don’t think you’re cowardly Book.
    You are, after all, in business and it makes no sense at all to risk alienating your clients or potential clients unnecessarily.  There are some venues — like here — where you can express your ideas freely, but there are others where it would clearly be unwise and also probably nugatory.
    Why shoot yourself in the foot?
    I know it’s been said that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to be silent, but that doesn’t mean we all have to speak up everywhere all the time  — only at the times when it is necessary and in places where it has a fair chance to be effective.

  • highlander

    Your post reminds me of a story about a young physicist who applied for a job at staid IBM’s Thomas J Watson Research Laboratory.  He came to the interviews in a clown outfit with a red nose that he could flash on and off with a button in his pocket.  The scientists at the laboratory took one look, chuckled, and then said to him, “OK, here’s what we need to have done.  Can you do it?”
    He could, and they hired him.  When he reported for work, he was wearing normal clothes.  He just wanted to see if IBM would look at his abilities instead of his appearance.
    Which gets me thinking about the law school students.  By voluntarily listing their membership in the Federalist Society on their resumes, they are in effect asking a question similar to that of the young physicist:  Is yours the kind of firm that will look at my abilities instead of my politics?
    Any firm that would reject such an applicant on that basis simultaneously identifies itself as a liberal quagmire and not a sane place for a serious thinking person to work.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Sorry folks…I have to swim against the current on this one.
    I, for one, will admit that when confronted with a hard-core Lefty, I do wonder about their values, ethics and judgment.
    Second, if it is an organization that nurtures and promotes left-wing values, I have no interest in working there, in large part for the reasons I just cited.
    For the record, though, I am NOT talking about universities, where diversity in thought should be the underlying governing principle, or government, which should reflect the ideological spectrum of its masters (i.e., us).

  • Bill Smith

    I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around the idea that lawyers are afraid of lawyers who support the Constitution. I guess they aren’t really lawyers.
    It’s like someone pointed out that if you ask applicants to schools of journalism why they want to be journalists, 90% will say it’s because they “want to make a difference.” Well, Sorry! That is not the job of a journalist.
    Lawfirms, have you noticed what is happening to the old main stream media? Even its bible, Editor & Publisher just succumbed to the Big Blue Pencil, in the opinion of many because of it had become a relentless, unreadable,  liberal screed.

  • kali

    “Why would you want to work for stupid, hidebound people who discriminate?” was always my philosophy, although in my case, it was discrimination based on age.  As a middle-aged woman with sysadmin experience, my resume always got me an interview–but the moment I walked into an interview room, about half the time the temperature would plummet immediately. My reaction was always, “their loss. Morons.” sweetened by the wisdom of knowing I’d hate working with them.

  • David Foster

    This lawyer isn’t hiring someone to be his personal servant; he is recommending a potential  employee to the *firm*. When he says “I don’t need to give reasons for the assessments given”, that suggests to me that he may be considering giving the candidate a bad assessment without divulging to other partners that his assessment is based on politics. This seems to be a clear violation of his own responsibility to the firm and to the other partners. If he were an executive of a publicly-traded corporation, he’d be in violation of his fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders.

    In our society today, we have a plague of people who seem to thing that they OWN resources of which they are actually merely stewards.

  • BrianE

    Interesting dilemna.

    If I had committed a crime, would I want a liberal or a conservative representing me?
    Would I want a lawyer who would bend the law (possibly even the history of the law) to get me acquitted, even if it meant skirting ethics, manipulating juror emotions and the like, or would I want a principled advocate.

    Of course, if I were a criminal, I’ve already moved the debate past ethics and integrity. Maybe that’s why the best criminal defense lawyers are liberals.

    For everything else I would want a principled, yet shrewd advocate.

    I wouldn’t have a problem working for a principled, ethical law firm regardless of political persuasion– someone like Matlock. A firm like Boston Legal not so much.